Trail Rating: Class 1Length: Primary Trail 5.3 Miles**
High-Clearance Required?: Yes Wide/Long Vehicles?: No Issues
Type: In & out trail
**Note: From the time you leave the pavement @ HWY 287 to the Cow Bone Lake is 25.6 miles
Dark Horse Lake
DARK HORSE & COW BONE LAKES TRAIL Within throwing distance of the Montana-Idaho border are two beautiful, high-mountain lakes situated in one of Montana's most scenic areas. The Big Hole Valley, all by itself, is worthy of being on anyone's bucket list for scenic areas and these lakes only add to that.
Dark Horse Lake is only 1/4 mile from the Idaho border. Cow Bone Lake is only a short distance south of Dark Horse. The trail to these two lakes, from the point it forks from Skinner Meadows Road, is only 5.4 miles long. So not a long trail at all. However, the trail-head, at almost 21 miles from where you leave the pavement, is a great drive on high-country dirt roads just getting to the actual trail.
So let's get on our way.
We start our directions at the intersection of MT Hwy 287 and Skinner Meadows Road (Forest Service Road 381). This intersection is 45 miles west of Dillon, 19 miles south of Wisdom, and about a mile south of Jackson. (Click for Google Maps Pin) Coordinates 45.3555, -113.4078 Keep in mind, Jackson does not have a gas station.
From Hwy 287, turn west onto Skinner Meadows Road (FSR 381). This will take you in a southwesterly direction. Just stay on the Skinner Meadows Road. Almost 11 miles from the Hwy 287 intersection, you will see the sign at the entrance for the North Van Houten Lake Campground. A little less than 1/2 mile further, you will find the entrance to the South Van Houten Lake Campground. Our route does not go through the campgrounds, but they make a good landmark along the way and I have stayed there a number of times when doing this trail. It is also the last bathroom for the rest of the trail.
6.5 miles past the entrance to the South Van Houten Lake Campground, is our trail. It is a right turn (west) off of the Skinner Meadows Road. (Click for Google Maps Pin) or GPS coordinates: 45.1691, -113.5201
~ You are now on Continental Divide Trail (FSR 7330).
If you find yourself on Bloody Dick Road, you have gone too far. You missed the turn for the trail.
This is a good example of what the trail is like
About 4.4 miles in from the turn off of Skinner Meadow Road, you will come to some cabins right along the road.
At this point, you can take the right fork and go to the Dark Horse Mine site to explore a little. (Click Here For Google Maps Pin) or GPS coordinates: 45.16768, -113.58851
The left fork takes us to Dark Horse Lake that is slightly less than 1/2 miles further.
There you go. It is a great trail and is not a hard one to follow.
Equipment at the Dark Horse Mine
NOTE: We are simply describing a 4x4 route. We accept no responsibility for your decisions. 4x4 off-roading can be great fun but it can also be dangerous. People can get hurt and vehicles can get stuck and/or damaged. Trail conditions can, do, and will, change at any time. Road conditions may no longer be accurately reflected in this or any trail description. Only you can decide what trails or obstacles your experience and vehicle can safely navigate. When in doubt, turn around. Wheel Safe!!